Back in about 2010, I rather abruptly ceased to believe that the EU was a viable political society. And I stopped believing it because I don’t think any society can survive the expulsion – in this case “exile to the outdoors” – of large numbers of its members. And so when the EU parliament voted for a European smoking ban, and for show trials of prominent dissenters, I thought it had signed its own death warrant.
The same applies to any society, even a chess club. And it also applies to nation states.
So why didn’t I abruptly cease to believe in the political viability of the UK, or England, when in 2006 its own parliament voted to ban smoking in enclosed public spaces, and put the law into effect on 1 July 2007?
The reason, I think, is that the EU is a rather abstract entity, and England is not. England is a real country, with real people, who speak a real language (English) and have a shared culture and history. And furthermore, equally importantly, England has its own subtle landscape of gently rolling hills. And it’s an island with a coast all the way round it. There are a lot more things that bind the English together than there are things that bind the EU together.
But all the same, I thought the 2007 smoking ban was the most divisive piece of legislation enacted by the British parliament in a century or more. The smoking ban had as shattering an effect on English political society as it did on the EU. But England is a far more naturally cohesive society than the EU, for the reasons I’ve just given. It takes a lot more than a smoking ban to shatter England. But I won’t be surprised if it takes a lot less than an EU smoking ban to shatter the EU.
I think that all the various smoking bans enacted throughout Europe (and the rest of the world) will one day be seen to have been one of the most colossal political blunders in human history. It will be seen as global collective madness. Because these bans are all extremely divisive. And division is what any politician anywhere in the world is trying to avoid. All the great political figures in history are people who have united peoples, not divided them.
But if the EU smoking ban is divisive of the very fragile EU, and it has been divisive of England and the UK, smoking bans must be as equally divisive of all the other various nation states of Europe.
There’s only one other nation state in Europe of which I have any direct personal experience, and that is Spain. I visited Spain frequently throughout the first decade of the 21st century, mostly Catalonia and Galicia. And Spain is a country that is in some ways very like Britain. It has its own language, and its own culture, and its own history. And it has its own landscape. And it has a coast that runs almost all the way round it. And I think that the Spanish smoking ban of January 2011 has been as divisive of Spain and Spanish civil society as the UK smoking ban has been in the UK.
But Spain is not quite as cohesive a society as the UK, or England. It has been racked by civil war within living memory (something not experienced in England for over 300 years). And Barcelona was one of the centres of the revolt against the Spanish central government. The dispute still festers on. There remain deep divisions in Spanish society.
And as I saw it, the divisive 2011 Spanish smoking ban could only have served to deepen existing divisions within Spain. And so I wasn’t really very surprised when Catalonia voted in 2017 to secede from Spain. I wasn’t surprised because I expect to see the social divisiveness of smoking bans to accentuate existing divisions in society everywhere. In fact I think that the Scottish independence referendum of 2014 was actually another example of the divisiveness of smoking bans: the UK became slightly more divided in 2006 (Scottish smoking ban) and 2007 (UK smoking ban).
Expressing these opinions led to a rift with Spanish reader Lecroix. He would not accept my idea that Catalan smokers (and for 10 years I was one, and might easily still have been one today) would have turned against the Spanish central government after it enacted the 2011 smoking ban. He was appalled at the idea of Europe fracturing into lots of micro-states (Catalonia and Scotland just being two among many). He thought that the secession of states like Catalonia would mean the break-up of Europe’s nation states, and this was what the globalists in the EU wanted, as they set about strengthening the power of the central EU state over the individual nation states of Europe.
And he was right. The EU political class is indeed trying to shatter the nation states of Europe. Smoking bans are one part of the drive. Mass immigration is another. The idea is that if all of Europe can be balkanised into a multiplicity of statelets, the EU central state will be the only power left in Europe, and Brussels will become a new Rome presiding over an empire larger than the Roman empire.
But I think that it’s much more likely that the EU will break up than the nation states of Europe will break up, because the EU is held together by much weaker forces than those that hold nation states together. The ties that bind, say, the French people together are much stronger than the ties that bind the French people to Brussels. If anything’s going to break, it will be the latter, not the former. And in Brexit we have already seen how tenuous the ties between the British people and the EU really were.
My only point is that smoking bans are powerfully socially divisive, and once smoking bans were enacted throughout Europe, they were bound to act to fragment it. Whether the fragmentation took place at the national level (e.g. between Britain and the EU), or at sub-national regional levels (e.g. between England and Scotland, or Catalonia and Spain) is a relatively unimportant detail: they are all just different expressions of fragmentation and division.
My guess is that the fractures, when they come, will appear in the south and east of Europe – because that’s where most of Europe’s angry smokers are to be found, and where the divisiveness of smoking bans is most strongly felt. The smokers of these regions may not have any formal political representation, but they exert a political influence anyway. And because being exiled to the outdoors is more easily endured in the warm south than in the cold north, the break will appear in north-eastern Europe, in Poland or Hungary or the Czech Republic, where the following video was shot: